Intermediate cities: a green and transformative post-COVID-19 recovery?

By Dražen Kučan, Sector Lead / Senior Urban and Energy Efficiency Specialist, Green Climate Fund

Guilty as charged: cities and urban populations are among the core drivers of anthropogenic climate change. Cities produce between 71% and 75% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions1. There needs to be a ‘paradigm shift towards low emission and climate-resilient development pathways’. A shift that can happen in developing countries by supporting and investing in high impact climate mitigation as well as resilience and adaptation initiatives.

While the paradigm shift is defined by the ‘degree to which the proposed activity can catalyse impact beyond one-off project or programme investment’, the reality is not so straightforward in the context of the urban sector. Urban areas are complex, multi-stakeholder environments that require holistic, structurally sound, sustainable solutions. They need transformative investments in energy efficient buildings; decarbonising urban energy systems; compact and resilient urban development (including investment in mass transit and non-motorised transit systems and vehicle electrification); grey to green urban infrastructure upgrading; the circular economy; and methane and emissions-free integrated waste management.     

Demand pressure on developing new urban infrastructure is high: new homes and infrastructure will have to be built at great speed for the approximately 2.5 billion new city dwellers expected by 2050. About 85% of new housing demand is projected to be in fast emerging economies (such as China) and in the majority of developing countries. Furthermore, of the 70 million new residents expected to move to pre-existing urban areas each year, the vast majority will live in intermediary cities, mostly in Africa and Asia. This adds to climate pressures, both in terms of accelerated emissions and enhanced vulnerabilities. 

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Putting metrics to action: global co-operation and the Anthropocene

By Pedro Conceição, Director of the Human Development Report Office and lead author of the Human Development Report

Forest fires in California and Australia. Heatwaves in Europe and India. Snow in Texas. These are only some of the recent extreme weather events that are increasingly ravaging our planet. Climate change is likely playing a crucial role in all of them. Add in COVID-19, which almost certainly sprang from human interaction with wildlife, we have an even clearer warning of the risks of human pressure on the planet. These pressures have had such an impact that many scientists argue that we have entered a new era, the Anthropocene, or the age of humans, in which humans have become a dominant force shaping the planet.

The ongoing planetary crises pay no attention to national borders, and nor should our efforts to come up with solutions. The most notable and ambitious of these—the Paris Agreement on Climate Action—has prompted virtually all countries to commit to reducing their carbon emissions. Nations have also come together to agree on international frameworks for other goals such as preserving biodiversity.

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Why investing in intermediary cities should be a priority for a green recovery

By Michael Lindfield, Senior Consultant, former Senior Specialist at the ADB

Although the COVID-19 pandemic will change the context for investment decisions – including for climate investment in intermediary cities in emerging markets and developing countries – little has been done to detail these consequences. In general, consequences for financing institutions and cities may include lower inflows to institutions like pension funds and insurance companies, and increased pressure to buy government bonds and lower revenue base, thus reducing cities’ and other urban institutions’ ability to service debt and/or provide availability payments to concessions. Additional consequences include potentially lower emerging market and developing economy sovereign and sub-sovereign credit ratings (increasing the cost of debt), and curbed economic growth, thus curtailing the potential for cost recovery in relation to green projects.    

These consequences are likely to impact intermediary cities more than capitals or megacities because they have lower credit ratings and less technical capacity. However, there will be opportunities if climate investment is integrated into COVID-19 recovery financing, creating the right incentives for investors. The critical alignment relates to the perceived risk/return profile of investments. If the rate of likely return will be sufficient to compensate for the risks of investing, then private, institutional and commercial entities will invest, provided minimum regulatory hurdles, such as minimum credit ratings, are met.

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Green windows of opportunity for latecomer development in renewable energies

By Xiaolan Fu, University of Oxford, Rasmus Lema, University of Aalborg and Roberta Rabellotti, University of Pavia

There is increasing recognition that policies aimed at meeting environmental targets may open new economic development paths, especially for emerging economies, given the green transformation and related techno-economic paradigm changes across institutional, market and technological domains. Looking at China, a recent article highlights the importance of institutional transformation to create “green windows of opportunity” (GWOs) for economic structural change associated with the green economy. Green windows of opportunity represent a set of favourable, temporary conditions for “latecomers” to catch-up in the long run in sectors central to the green economy. 

To investigate GWOs there needs to be a new framework for two main reasons. First, it is essential to deviate from the environmentally unfriendly development pathways undertaken in the past by advanced economies of North America and Western Europe. Emerging economies should ‘develop differently’ from the outset rather than catch-up along established pathways. Second, the green transformation, as a significant driver of current capitalist development, has features that sets it apart from earlier transformations. It is the first industrial and technological revolution with a deadline and it is steered explicitly by public policy, driven not just by economic motivations, but also by social value. 

Green windows of opportunity

This new analytical framework is summarised in Figure 1, with green windows of opportunity at its core, driven by institution and policy changes rather than technological or market change. Empirical evidence on biomass, hydro, solar photovoltaic, concentrated solar power and wind shows that institutional changes are the central drivers of green windows of opportunity. Examples from China include both cross-cutting changes such as the implementation of the 2006 Renewable Energy Law and sector-focused missions such as the Golden Sun Demonstration Program in the solar photovoltaic sector and the Rind the Wind Program. While the drivers of the emergence of these green windows are essentially institutional and policy-driven in nature, they influence and interact with technological and market transformations.

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Comment remettre l’Humain au cœur des préoccupations agricoles et alimentaires ?

Par Pierrick De Ronne, Président de Biocoop

Selon l’OXFAM, 80 % de l’alimentation mondiale dépend de la production de paysannes et paysans. Pourtant, loin d’être récompensés pour leur contribution à la survie de la planète, de plus en plus d’agriculteurs perçoivent des revenus insuffisants pour leur assurer un revenu de vie décent. Dans l’ensemble des pays du monde, les géants de l’agro-industrie et de la distribution dominent les ventes de produits alimentaires. Ces acteurs s’organisent même à l’international afin de définir des prix payés aux producteurs sans cesse plus réduits. Cette guerre destructrice de valeur, maintes fois pointée du doigt par l’ensemble des acteurs, ceux-là mêmes qui s’y sont engouffrés depuis plusieurs années, écrase nos paysans, détruit nos filières et nos marchés locaux, accentue les écarts de revenus et s’accompagne, de surcroît, d’un recours croissant de l’industrie agro-alimentaire aux additifs et aux ingrédients ultra-transformés, lesquels ont un impact désastreux sur la santé des consommateurs.  

Les acteurs de la distribution ont une responsabilité sur les inégalités du système alimentaire mondial. L’engagement des enseignes, petites et grandes, pour transformer leur modèle d’approvisionnement, de production et de consommation est donc une condition indispensable. Aussi, comment passer d’une politique agricole productiviste, destructrice de valeur, à une politique de l’alimentation reconnue pour ses externalités positives (terroir, rayonnement culturel, emploi) ? Comment réussir à démocratiser l’accès à une alimentation de qualité rémunératrice pour les paysans tout en considérant l’agriculture comme partie intégrante de notre santé et de nos écosystèmes sociétaux ?

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“Green” transition and innovation in public institutions: an urgent research and policy agenda

By João Carlos Ferraz, Associate Professor, Institute of Economics, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

New economic activities may be required for the sustainable, competitive and inclusive development trajectory of a nation. But in their early stages, the economic attractiveness of many of these new activities is unknown. Uncertainty prevails as investment projects have no track record of costs and returns, demand is not guaranteed, and the institutional framework may not be consolidated. In short, infant industry challenges may apply, which is when new policy and public institution practices should come into play. And increasingly, emerging societal development challenges like climate change, are creating a pressing need for innovative policy solutions.

But what is innovation in public institutions? Policy innovations may come in diverse shapes and forms; they can be new solutions to address a pre-existing challenge or alternative approaches to tackling an emerging one. Some may result in short-lived experiences (pilot projects that are never scaled up); others can be both immediately relevant and long lasting. Drawing from Schumpeterian literature, policy innovation can be defined as changes in processes – including organisational procedures – and products that a public agency offers to society. For policy beneficiaries, these are product innovations, but, when taken up, they imply process changes in the recipient organisation. Moreover, policy innovations can be of radical or incremental nature depending on the extent of the changes they imply for policy benefactors and beneficiaries. Nonetheless, a necessary pre-condition for the emergence and application of any type of innovation is the mobilisation of dynamic policy capabilities.  

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Strengthening climate resilience in developing countries: what are the priorities?

By Takayoshi Kato, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate and Nicolina Lamhauge, OECD Environment Directorate

Over the last 12 months, the Philippines has had to fight two rising tides threatening the population of its archipelago: the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the consequences of devastating weather events including several typhoons and tropical storms. Not only did Typhoon Goni lead to the evacuation of almost 1 million people from their homes last October, the country has also had to grapple with a string of less extreme, slow-onset changes, such as rising sea-levels, putting houses, schools, shops and infrastructure at risk. The Philippines is not an isolated case: all over the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has all but exposed the fragility of societies to systemic shocks, reminding us of the imperative of investing more resolutely in resilience building mechanisms and enablers.

The impact of climate change on developing countries is a case in point: by altering and intensifying risk patterns, it has been compounding other stressors such as poverty, inequality and discrimination, and threatening the ability of those countries to achieve their sustainable development objectives. Responding to this increasingly pressing need for climate action is a difficult task for administrations already struggling with other environmental challenges, on top of social and economic ones. International co-operation partners can provide critical support to partner countries. However, for finance and technical co-operation to be effective, and not complicate the task of the policymakers they mean to help, those partners must target and manage their support in a smart way, drawing from experience around the globe. As the OECD releases its updated guidance to making development pathways more climate resilient, three priorities emerge from our research and consultation process.

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The IMF’s turn on climate change

By Kevin P. Gallagher, Professor and Director of the Global Development Policy Centre at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, and Co-Chair of the ‘Think 20’ Task Force on International Finance to the G20

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently pledged to put climate change at the heart of its work. A laggard to date, the IMF has to catch up fast to ensure that the world community can meet its climate change and development goals in a manner that doesn’t bring havoc to the global financial system. The IMF’s first test on climate change will be the extent to which it incorporates climate risk into this year’s reform of IMF surveillance activities. Given that these reforms will lock in for close to a decade, if the IMF doesn’t act now the consequences for prosperity and the planet will be grave.

Kristalina Georgieva has been a strong advocate of greening the financial system through her new post of Managing Director of the IMF, which she began in the fall of October 2019.  Unfortunately, she took office when the shareholder of the IMF with the most voting power, the United States, was led by a President who claimed climate change was a hoax. In the face of that pressure and to her credit, Georgieva steadfastly advocated for incorporating climate change into IMF operations and for a green recovery from the COVID-19 crisis even though her biggest patron made it difficult to put her words into action.

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Transitions in development: the European Green Deal and Latin America

By José Antonio Sanahuja, Director, Fundación Carolina, Spain, Special Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean to the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

The response to COVID-19, the ecological transition and strategic autonomy are the three driving forces of the European Union’s (EU) broad transformative programme. This programme involves deep changes in its own social and economic development model and in its relationship with the world. It is a short-term reaction to a pandemic that has fast become a systemic crisis. But it is also the EU’s long-term response to an international context of globalisation in crisis and challenges to the international order. The future of EU-Latin America relations will be deeply affected by these transformations.  

For the EU, as for Latin America, the pandemic is a catalyst for change. This time the reaction has been quite different in terms of monetary or fiscal measures compared to the self-destructive cycle of austerity adopted in the European debt crisis. Following an immediate response from the European Central Bank, the council adopted a first range of modest financial support measures. But in July 2020 the European Council agreed on an unprecedented package of 1.8 trillion euro, including the new 2021-27 budget and the “Next Generation” recovery programme. The programme involves linking budget, new common taxes and Eurobonds, paving the way to a common treasury. Therefore, this agreement is an important federal step forward, that just six months earlier would have been unbelievable. Beyond its macroeconomic and fiscal impact, these investment instruments will also push the EU towards an ambitious shift in its development model.

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Are African countries heading for a carbon lock-in or leapfrogging to renewables?

By Galina Alova, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford

Non-hydro renewables are likely to account for less than 10% of Africa’s power generation by the end of this decade. My recent co-authored study predicts fossil fuels to continue to dominate the electricity mix in many African countries, and the continent as a whole.

Opportunity to power development with renewables

Africa is presented with an important opportunity to make a decisive leap to renewables this decade. The continent’s energy demand is projected to more than double in the coming years, as countries seek to industrialise and improve the development outcomes for their growing populations, including providing affordable power to close the energy access gap. At the same time, Africa – the land of sun and wind – possesses vast renewable energy resources.  

Against this backdrop, renewables have become increasingly more competitive in the past years, with their cost set to decline further compared to conventional fossil-fuel-based generation. The affordability of battery storage has also significantly improved, with lithium-ion battery packs hitting a record low in 2020.

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